Sunday, November 23, 2014

Books: Think Like a Freak

For most of us, Freakonomics is the book that made us look at numbers and their interpretation in a different way. The books also happen to be an excellent example of Lateral Thinking. Steven D Levitt and Stephen J Dubner, the authors of Freakonomics and SuperFreakonomics and self-proclaimed freaks, plans to show us how to think like a freak. In the ever-changing professional fields, thinking like a freak will get you into the hall of fame. So it is not only the right time but also very essential to share this knowledge.

Steven and Stephen are good story tellers. Like their previous books, this one also has a lot of stories. There are tireless doctors who crusade against the scientific community and also an unassuming Japanese guy who become a champion by wolfing down hot dogs. No doubt these are interesting stories told in a captivating way. Unfortunately, the stories are the upside of the book. The rest of the book is a series of mantras that will help you think different, think outside the box or think like a freak. These mantras are an amalgamation of the popular self-help books.

Except the interesting stories and the style of writing, there isn't nothing much you can get from this book. You may want to pick up this book while waiting for the next flight. Easily read and more easily forgotten.

Tags: Books,Steven D Levitt,Stephen J Dubner,Freak

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Doctors and Daddies

A father is always protective of his children, but he is overly protective of his daughter. A daughter always brings the best in a father. You may be toughest person on earth. But when you daughter describes the world, you might want that to be the truth even though your intelligence might point to the opposite direction. I had an interesting conversation with my daughter the other day. When I was talking about paying consultation fees for a doctor, my daughter was surprised.

Daughter: *quizzing* Why do you have to pay a doctor?

Me: *patiently* They need money for various things.

Daughter: *pausing for a second to digest this fact* But I thought doctors were sweet. That is why they are doctors, and they don't money.

At this point, I realize I have to break another fragment of the perfect world my daughter has created in her mind. So I carefully think on how to approach it. Once I have formulated my line of reasoning; I resume.

Me: *slowly* They do accept money. Haven't you seen me paying at the hospital before going to see a doctor? *mentally heaves a sigh, thinking it is going to take some time for my daughter to digest it*

Daughter: *instantly* Yes. But that is because you are sweet and so you pay the doctor.

To be frank, everything after the word "sweet" was a blur. I was flying high after that. Who am I kidding? I am still flying high.

Tags: Parenthood,Doctor,Payment

Monday, November 17, 2014

Restaurants, Accents and Jobs

Over the weekend, I visited a local restaurant serving a potpourri of Asian food. If you been to a Chinese buffet already, then you know what I am talking. The restaurant has a similar theme; the difference is in the spread that belongs to a couple of regions in Asia instead of sticking to Chinese items alone. The wait times are long in this restaurant, but they turn their tables very quickly. They can turn tables quickly because they have a lot of tables. The restaurant has a seating capacity like a stadium. Even though it I am exaggerating with the similarity to a stadium, it is a dining hall and not a restaurant. Keeping aside the food, it is the waiters and waitresses that caught my eyes.

For an Asian restaurant, I expected a lot of Asian faces among the crew. You may call me prejudiced. Although I scanned the crew, I could see very few locals; the few locals carried the tag displaying "Trainee". The trainees looked like a rush job. Most of the other names and also accents indicated they were from Eastern side of Europe. This finding was amusing for me because a couple of days back we went on a team lunch to an Italian restaurant. Diwali is long past, but the pain of organizing a Diwali lunch fell on my overburdened shoulders. Based on everyone's calendar, last week was the only time when all of us are not on vacation or training. Why Italian for an Indian occasion? If that is your question, don't you know Indians and Italians go a long way? 1972 to be exact; Godfather released in 1972 and we all are ardent fans of this movie. That is our Italian connection.

I called up a highly rated Italian restaurant near my work. I was happy to hear an accent at the other end. I was happier to find the accent wrapped in a beautiful voice. Like a naive person, I assumed the restaurant was run and managed by Italian immigrants who will provide authentic Italian food. All is well that ends well. The food was good. All of us had fun. The beautiful voice also turned out to be more beautiful in person with a great and perfect teeth. But she was not Italian. She was from Spain living in England because she wanted to learn English. To my Indian friends, please don't bother asking the name of the restaurant in order to teach her English. She wants to learn English and not Hinglish. To my British friends, if I had denied the pleasure to my brethren, why would I reveal the name of the restaurant to you?

If you analyze further, both the cities - where I live and where I work - are so small that I call them villages. There are still many jobs out in these small places. Then why is immigration a problem? 

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Photos: Trafalgar Square

This is another shot of Trafalgar Square taken at night.

Tags: Photos

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Photos: Green Lantern at Trafalgar Square

The reality is different from the perception. Here I was in self-imposed exile, mostly involved, in a self-flagellation, about my lack of interest in photography. After two consecutive moves from Paris and in the process of adjusting to a new environment, I doubted my photography skills because I couldn't either find time or was not happy with the end results. Then comes a day when you go through the treasure trove and finds pictures that are worthy of sharing.

I had taken this picture at Trafalgar Square a year ago. These days, I don't carry the tripod around. This picture motivates me to take my tripod again. I like the fountain lit in green and felt it would be interesting to try out using long exposure. You can see the result below, and I hope you like it.

Tags: Photos

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Delivering the unspeakable

What is the differentiating factor of your company? Recently when engaged in a discussion with a group of professionals, the question arose. The group of professional were all working as system integrators in the IT world. For this particular question, there are many answers that is vague and is hard to quantify. So I was surprised when someone came with an answer. "We deliver shit."

I was taken aback by the bold statement. It is one thing you are providing unusable services, but it is altogether another thing to blatantly admit it. When the speaker saw the shocked look on our faces, he explained. "No, we don't delivery shit. We deliver SHIT". All of us were still baffled. "SHIT as in S, H, I, T." Although the speaker was spelling out each character, we already knew the spellings. "SHIT is acronym for somehow in time." As it made perfect sense, we all smiled.

To think about it, delivering somehow in time is not success. This method is best to meet timelines. It is a defeatist approach to ensure a green status in your report for the most items. On the flip side, this approach doesn't guarantee the usability of what you are providing. Then what is the point in delivering somehow in time?

Tags: Musings,Delivery,In Time

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Pappettan teaches to drive

If you are wondering who Pappettan is, click on this link and find out.

Pappettan, being a good samaritan, agreed to the experienced driver for a common friend who intended to appear for the driving test. Teaching driving is a tricky business. A few decades ago, my driving instructor in Kochi used to shout at the top of the lungs for even a silly mistake. Years later in US, I found a very calm person as a driving instructor. I was curious to find which category Pappettan belonged to. I should have known better. He belongs to the cool-as-cucumber category. I learned other lessons on top of this obvious fact.

Our friend was driving on the left side of the road which incidentally is the right side of the road for UK and India. He was following the lane discipline religiously when a car from the opposite direction slowly swerved into our side of the road. The other car had evidently crossed the median and was in our part of the road. My friend was in total control of the car when Pappettan instructed him. 

Pappettan: *calmly* Please move to your left.

Common Friend: *puzzled* Should I?

Pappettan: *explains* Yes, you should. Please move to your left and give that car space to pass safely.

Common Friend: *obeys but is not happy*

Pappettan: *no expression on his face, watching traffic and judging my friend's driving skills*

Common Friend: *unwilling to let go* But... the other car was wrong. They were not following the rules.

Pappettan: *lets out a laugh* Our duty is to drive safely and save lives. Is it right or wrong? That is for a judge to decide.


Saturday, November 8, 2014

The Unyielding Rule

Rules are rules. Haven't we heard this before? Right from the childhood, there are many rules, and this has also formed the causes of our anguishes. Many a time, these rules have made it difficult to get what we wanted. Many a times, these rules were so absurd which made eventually made our lives less happy and more tedious. Recently, a new acquaintance tells me an incident where rules play an important role. Since the event was set in Paris, I was not sure if the punch was in the absurdity of rules or the French reverence for authority and rules. Regardless, it is an excellent tale to share.

The incident happened quite a lot of years back when my acquaintance was very young. At that time, he was in Paris taking part in a chess competition for the prize money. For every win, you earn money. Since my acquaintance was very young and inexperienced, he was looking for the prize money. On the fateful day, he was pitted against a Russian chess player. After a few moves into the game, my acquaintance was waiting for the next move when the opponent clutched his heart and fell down from the chair. Strange as it may sound, the Russian had succumbed to a heart attack.

After paramedics had taken away the body of Russian opponent, my acquaintance approached the authorities. Although shameful, my acquaintance admits he was more concerned about the prize money. Guess what the authorities said. According to the rules, my acquaintance will have to wait for a stipulated time for his opponent to make the next move. If his opponent fails to make a move in the stipulated time, my acquaintance will be judged the winner. So my acquaintance returned to his seat, whiled away the time till he was judged the winner and could walk away with the money. Now, isn't that a rule that is absurd?

Tags: Musings,Rules,Chess

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

The Science of Analogy

Analogy is defined as a comparison between one thing and another for the purpose explanation and clarification. The definition leads to the next question. Is analogy the same as example? The answer is no. Analogy is a comparison while example is a representation. Analogy is a good tool while you want to convey a message. At the same time, you have to choose the right analogies for the message.

Today, a colleague brought up a good example of analogy. My colleague was guiding on how to treat bad news. So the analogy he used is of wine and cheese. Being a foodie, I like when someone refers to food while explaining difficult concepts. According to my colleague (and other learned people), wine can kept for longer time. As time goes by, wine matures and becomes a pricier commodity. Unlike wine, cheese cannot be kept for longer time. As time passes, cheese becomes bad. Bad news has to be treated like cheese and not like wine. Bad news has to be communicated as soon as possible.

Sometimes, people get carried away and use the wrong analogies at time. I have come across a few but what stands out is the comparison to kamikaze units. Anyone who is familiar with World War II knows these units were used Japanese fighter pilots carrying suicide attacks. During the project kick-off, a colleague motivated the entire team by showing them the analogy of kamikaze units. The team had a long way to go and also had to make a huge impact. So, he chose the kamikaze units for motivating the team members. Unfortunately, there is no hope for the kamikaze pilot. First of all, why would anyone want to burn themselves out for a project? Secondly, why do we liken a project to war which always is destructive?

Tags: Musings,Analogy,Colleague,Project

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Photos: Sketching intensely

The walkway connecting Millennium bridge with St Paul's Cathedral offers a good view of the cathedral. There are benches along this walkway. During my last visit, I found an artist drawing on a white paper. The subject was St Paul's Cathedral. But she was looking intensely into the paper and was lost in the activity. In between she, would wake up from the trance to share funny lines with her friend who was also sketching.

There was no way I was going to capture this picture without getting close to her. So I decided to ask her permission. I was in for a surprise when I asked for permission. She laughed nervously when she heard my request to photograph her beautiful eyes. "My eyes are evil." That was her response. Her response makes me wonder. Why are women unsure about their beauty?

Tags: Photos

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Books: The Hunt For Red October

I picked up this book after watching the movie recently. I had read the book a while back and also seen the movie once when it came out decades ago. The books written by Tom Clancy requires a lot more than casual reading. It also requires a lot of efforts in order to adapt it for the screen. If the books are made into a movie like it is written to the screen instead of adapting, it becomes a costly affair which will also turn out to be too difficult to comprehend. Considering this fact, I wanted to find out how the hunt for Red October plays out in the book. In this process, I also discover the joys of second reading. 

Set in the Cold War Era, the story is about a missing Soviet nuclear submarine during the maiden voyage. Commandeered by Captain Ramius, the nuclear submarine goes silent. The new propulsion system which emits lesser sound than a normal submarine complicates the matter as it is almost undetectable.  The disappearance causes Soviets to mobilize their entire fleet close to the US coastal lines making the Americans nervous. The US in turn mobilizes their forces in order to keep an eye on the Russian ones. The chances for war increases as the forces of these two nations come closer. The time is close to Christmas, and the world is on the brink of war. The CIA analyst Jack Ryan takes a routine trip from his base station in London to Washington DC for a debrief that thrusts him into to the middle of action.

Tom Clancy describes in detail on technical aspects of modern weapons and m protocols followed by the navy, army and the air force of both countries. The reader has to be vigilant so as not to lose or confuse oneself in the details. Since it deals with espionage, this is a cat-and-mouse game where pawns are so insignificant that they don't realize the importance of the part they play. Since the action is set on the sea, we get to see what is life is aboard carriers and submarines mainly the claustrophobia. He also highlights on the disparities in life in both countries at that time.

If you haven't read it and you love thrillers, this one is for you. The book tells of a different era. But those times were as dangerous as the times we live at present. In many ways, those times were much simpler too.

Tags: Books,Tom Clancy,Jack Ryan

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